The U.S. Chamber of Commercehas estimated that an outlay of $222 billion a year is necessary to maintain the surface transportation system. Two funding proposals under discussion in Congress would spend $35 billion or $55.4 billion a year.
“Members of Congress continue to delay action on a new multi-year bill as their constituents idle each day in mind-numbing traffic congestion,” said Pete Ruane, president of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. “It’s inexcusable.”
Ruane said robust new investment was needed to revive the 60-year-old interstate system, but he acknowledged that the federal gas tax revenues that built it no longer provide enough money to achieve that.
“Traffic congestion is one of the nation’s very real challenges that can’t be solved by budgetary smoke and mirrors,” he said. “To address the problem, the day is coming soon when Congress will have to take the hard vote on increasing the user fee.”
The federal gas tax, set at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, has for generations paid the nation’s transportation bills, but the improvement of gas mileage and introduction of hybrids and electric vehicles has cut into that revenue. Now, highway tolls — as evidenced locally by the ICC, HOT lanes and preliminary approval for Virginia to collect them on Interstate 95 — are being considered as an alternative.
The TTI study said that the annual number of hours wasted in traffic would increase to 77 by 2015 and to 81 by 2020.
“The solution mix may be different for each city, but the one thing they all share in common is urgency,” said Tim Lomax, one of the TTI study’s authors. “If we want a strong economy, doing nothing is not a productive option.”
Engines burn money
The TTI report concludes that congestion cost Americans more than $100 billion in 2010, up from $24 billion in 1982 when calculated in 2011 dollars. Engines idling in traffic burned $1.9 billion gallons of gasoline. The researchers projected that the number would increase to 2.5 billion gallons and delays would cost $133 billion by 2015.
Congestion cost the average commuter $750, up from $351 in 1982. And the average time lost to congestion nationwide was 34 hours, up from 14 hours in 1982. Additional delays would drive the cost to $900 by 2015.
Until last year, TTI researchers used traffic volume data provided by the states to calculate congestion in major urban areas. Now they use data compiled by a private firm, INRIX, that places data-gathering devices on millions of trucks, taxis, fleet vehicles and delivery vans. It also offers an iPhone application that provides users with real-time travel information in return for anonymous tracking of the users’ travel.
The other cities on the top 10 most congested list, and the annual number of hours drivers spend caught in traffic are Chicago (71), Los Angeles (64), Houston (57), New York (54), Baltimore (52), San Francisco (50), Denver (49), Boston (47) and Dallas (45).